x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

A united front is only way out of Libyan crisis

The only way to avoid a prolonged stalemate in Libya is to orchestrate a decisive blow to the regime of Col Qaddafi, who, at this point, shows no sign of leaving on his own accord.

When the UN Security Council passed resolution 1973 in March, the mission and mandate seemed straight forward enough: fighter jets would police Libya's airspace, opposition rebels would depose Col Muammar Qaddafi, and bloodbaths would be averted in Benghazi.

Today, a far murkier reality has emerged. As back-and-forth battles continue across the country's midsection, unanimity of action has given way to bureaucratic stalemate.

Wednesday's "contact group" meeting in Doha, and yesterday's follow up with foreign ministers in Berlin, were chances to bridge the widening gap between Nato and Arab allies, and the Libyan rebels they have chosen to support. Some hopeful signs did emerge.

Allies agreed to further squeeze the Qaddafi regime of cash, and set up a temporary mechanism to fund the opposition Transitional National Council. Beyond these relatively minor steps, though, progress was hard to spot.

Finding a solution to the crisis, "which responds to the legitimate demands of the Libyan people", will take more than carefully worded statements. Through air power and financial aid, the international community is already supporting the opposition. To claim impartiality is just window dressing. Only France, Italy and Qatar have officially recognised the Transitional National Council; it is time for the rest of the coalition to recognise what it has already chosen to do.

The principle point of friction centres on how much military force to use moving forward. Qatar and Italy have called for arming rebel fighters, while others, including the United States and France, are not willing to go so far. France has, however, accused Nato of not doing enough with the military force already authorised.

Caution is certainly warranted. As the contact group noted, there is a "need to monitor any potential threat from extremist elements who could seek to take advantage of the situation in Libya". The last thing the region needs is another failed state ripe for the taking, like Afghanistan was for al Qa'eda, and Yemen threatens to be.

The deeper international military involvement becomes, the more challenging an exit strategy will be. The only way to avoid a prolonged stalemate is to orchestrate a decisive blow to the regime of Col Qaddafi, who, at this point, shows no sign of leaving on his own accord.